Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government

Standard 6.8: Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government

Explain the leadership structure of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the function of each branch. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.8]

Great Blue Hill
Photo of the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts (2009), by Swampyank, Public Domain

Massachusetts is an Algonquin Indian word which roughly translates to large hill place or at the great hill.” This refers to the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts - an ancient volcano last active over 400 million years ago (History of Massachusetts Blog, December 2, 2015). The names of the state’s 14 counties were borrowed from places in England (Where Did Massachusetts Counties Get Their Names? from MassLive).

The state’s population in July 2019 was estimated at 6.8 million people, 16.5% over age 65 (slightly more than the national average) and 19.8% younger than 18 (somewhat less than the national average). About 16.5% of the state’s residents are foreign-born (higher than the national average). Median household income was $77,378 compared with $60,293 nationwide; 10% of the population were living in poverty, less than the national average of 11.8%. 90.1% of Massachusetts households have a computer; 84.7% have broadband subscriptions (Anderson, 2020).

The state government's legislative, executive, and judicial structure is similar to the three branches of the nation's federal government. Importantly, Massachusetts has had many history-making political milestones which have made its government more representative of all genders and races. Going forward, with millions of people living in a geographically small area, that state's government faces enormous challenges.  One of those challenges - how can state government promote greater equity in jobs and careers for women and men - is at the center of how democracy in the 21st century.

    1. INVESTIGATE: The Structure of Massachusetts Government

    Massachusetts is one of four states that are legally called a “commonwealth” - Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are the others. There is no real difference between a commonwealth and a state. All have a structure similar to the federal government with three co-equal branches - executive, legislative and judicial - that check and balance each other.

    Executive Branch

    The executive branch is made up of the Governor, the governor's cabinet, the state treasurer, the state auditor, the attorney general, the state comptroller, and the state secretary. 

    Governor: The governor is the chief executive officer, similar to the president in the federal government. The governor is elected in a state election and serves a four-year term. The current governor of Massachusetts is Charlie Baker (2020).

    The Governor's Cabinet: The governor's cabinet is similar to the president's cabinet. The governor's cabinet is made up of Executive Office for Administration and Finance, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the Executive Office of Education and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

    The Attorney General: The attorney general represents all legal proceedings in both state and federal courts. The attorney general also brings actions to enforce environmental and consumer protection statutes.

    Legislative Branch

    The legislative branch is made up of the State Senate and House of Representatives: 

    Judicial Branch

    The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the Trial Court. The Appeals Court and the Trial Court are appointed by the Governor.

    In some states, judges are elected by the voters, but in Massachusetts they are appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the Governor's Council. Judges have a lifetime appointment with a mandatory retirement age of 70. You can learn more at How a Judge is Selected in Massachusetts.

    Media Literacy Connections: Campaigning for State Office on Social Media

    In Massachusetts, like most states, voters elect people to serve in multiple positions in state government, including: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the Communication, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor, Governor's Council, state senator, and state representative. They do not elect judges, who are, instead, appointed. You can learn more at Who Are My Elected Officials?

    Activity: Design a Social Media Political Campaign for a State Office

    • Note: In some states, people also vote for State Supreme Court Justices so you could design a campaign for this office as well.

    Suggested Learning Activity

    Online Resources for the Structure of Massachusetts Government

    2. UNCOVER: Milestones in Massachusetts History and Politics

    Massachusetts has had many historical firsts, including:

    Boston Common
    The Boston Common by Winslow Homer, 1858, Boston Public Library, Public Domain

    The structure of Massachusetts government, while similar to that of the federal government, also provides important firsts and key developments (see Table 6.8).

    Table 6.8 Milestones in Massachusetts History and Politics

    First African American Men Elected to the Massachusetts Legislature

    Edward Garrison Walker and Charles Lewis Mitchell (1866)

    First African American Woman Elected to the Massachusetts House

    Doris Bunte (1973)

    First African American Man Elected to the Massachusetts Senate

    Bill Owens (1975)

    First Hispanic Man Elected the Massachusetts Legislature

    Nelson Merced (1988)

    First Hispanic Woman Elected the Massachusetts Legislature

    Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (1999)

    First LGBT Candidate Elected  the Massachusetts Legislature

    Elaine Noble (1975)

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Research
      • Expand upon Table 6.8 by adding a list of other firsts for Massachusetts government and politics. Here are three more examples to get your started:
        • First African American Elected to the United States Senate: Edward Brooke (1966)
        • First African American Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court:  Roderick L. Ireland (2010)
        • First African American Woman Elected to the United States House of Representatives: Ayanna Pressley (2018)

    • Design a Firsts eBook for Your State
      • Create a class eBook (on Book Creator or Google Docs) about milestones in your state's history and politics.
      • Each student can select a milestone and create a multimodal, interactive (e.g., hyperlinks, embedded media) page or chapter to add to the collaborative class book.
    • Analyze Media Coverage of “Firsts”
      • How did the media cover the “firsts”?
      • How did the media influence what happened?

    3. ENGAGE: How Can Society Eliminate Gender Gaps in Wages and Jobs?

    In 1945, Massachusetts became the first state to pass an Equal Pay Law mandating that women be paid the same as men when doing the same job. That law was updated in 2018 with the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act. Today, most states have laws against wage discrimination based on gender—only Alabama and Mississippi do not have equal pay laws.

    Equal Work Flyer
    It’s time for equal pay for equal work (Gillibrand, 2020), by Kristen Gillibrand for President, Public Domain

    Still a gender pay gap exists across most occupations and industries in this country.  Women make less money than men, often much less—on average 82 cents for every dollar made by men (The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap). In 2019, 26 of the 30 highest paying jobs were male-dominated; 23 of the 30 lowest paying jobs were female-dominated (Women in Male-Dominated Industries and Occupations: Quick Take, Catalyst, February 5, 2020).

    Equal Pay Day is the day in a year that women must work until they earn what men earned the previous year. Equal Pay Day for all women in 2019 was June 10; for Black women it was August 22.

    Suggested Learning Activity

    • Design a Public Policy Initiative
      • What else must be done besides equal pay laws to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs?
      • Develop a short video or podcast explaining your proposal for action

    Online Resources for Equal Pay Laws

    Standard 6.8 Conclusion

    Massachusetts has a system of government like the other states in the United States. INVESTIGATE outlined the structure of the state’s legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. UNCOVER presented milestones in Massachusetts government, many of which opened the way for wider transformations in politics throughout the nation. ENGAGE asked what steps state government can and should take to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs.